26 September 2006 - Tuesday

Spinning the National Intelligence Estimate

Recently, a New York Times story alleged that the current National Intelligence Estimate -- the most important document produced by the American intelligence community -- shows that the American invasion of Iraq has exacerbated the threat of terrorism worldwide.

In response, President Bush ordered the declassification of a small part of the NIE. This declassified report is called "Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate." It is available from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as a PDF download. Apparently the declassified document contains most of the NIE's section of key judgments, with "probably just a handful, maybe two or three paragraphs that have been redacted in the interest of national security," according to homeland security advisor Frances Fragos Townsend.

The White House is characterizing the document as a confirmation, not a refutation, of the president's wisdom. "This really underscores the President's point about the importance of our winning in Iraq," Townsend told reporters.

However, the text contains several statements that Townsend failed to address well (if at all) in her press conference. And these statements entirely confirm the NYT article: they clearly state that our intelligence community believes that jihadism is growing numerically, becoming harder to fight, and growing in strength -- in significant part because of the invasion of Iraq.

Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.

If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.


The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.


We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.

The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.

We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate.

Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq "jihad"; (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims -- all of which jihadists exploit.

So, to recap:

* The numerical strength of jihadists is growing, and this trend is expected to lead to increased attacks on the US.

* The jihadist movement is dispersing geographically; geographic dispersion will make the movement harder to fight.

* The Iraq invasion "is breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." Such Muslim anger at the United States, especially in response to the Iraq invasion, is "fueling the spread of the jihadist movement."

* The advantages reaped from this situation by the jihadist movement "outweigh its vulnerabilities."

True, the NIE does support a couple of Bush administration positions. It does suggest that withdrawing American troops from Iraq could make the problem even worse, while political reform in the Middle East would eventually reduce the threat. On both of these positions, I have always agreed with the president in broad outline -- and even the Democrats generally agree with the president on the second point, despite disagreeing over methods.

But this does not change the fact that the National Intelligence Estimate says that the invasion of Iraq has given strength to global jihad. And it says that should our nation-building project in Iraq fail -- which almost everyone admits is a very real possibility -- we will be in an even more dangerous situation.

| Posted by Wilson at 20:00 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Power Desk